In The Legal Battle Between Aereo And Broadcasters, The DOJ Sides With The Incumbents

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In the never-ending legal battle between internet TV startup Aereo and major network broadcasters, the DOJ has stepped in to voice its opposition toward Aereo’s streaming/DVR service.

The Department of Justice filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court on Monday arguing that Aereo’s service infringes on the copyrights of broadcasters. The brief asked the Supreme Court to reverse the decisions made by the lower court that ruled in Aereo’s favor.

Aereo has been battling with broadcasters across the country including NYC, Boston and Utah, and in each case has (mostly) remained victorious in their argument. Recently, broadcasters asked the Supreme Court to pick up the case, which would end the matter once and for all. The hearing is set to begin on April 22.

The issue: Broadcasters believe that Aereo is stealing their signals out of the air and rebroadcasting those signals to consumers unlawfully. However, Aereo works very similarly to a regular set of rabbit ears above a TV. Because each Aereo user has their own remote antenna that records their very own copy of various programs, the startup has been consistently successful in court.

In fact, a ruling against Aereo is said to have averse affects on cloud computing as a whole.

The DOJ’s briefing, however, says that there is no threat to cloud computing/remote DVR if Aereo loses. Instead, the threat Aereo poses to the law is that users can “gain access to copyrighted content in the first instance — the same service that cable companies have traditionally provided.”

However, that would also mean that a company selling rabbit ears or antennas is also indirectly breaking the law.

Deputy Solicitor General Edwin S. Kneedler wrote the following in his brief: “Because [Aereo’s] system transmits the same underlying performances to numerous subscribers, the system is clearly infringing.”

This is false.

First and foremost, Aereo’s technology doesn’t actually transmit anything without a user logging in, activating his or her own antenna, and commanding it to tune into a particular frequency. At that point, each antenna creates its own unique stream that goes through the DVR (for recording) and then out to the consumer. Those unique streams are never shared or co-mingled. It is the consumer, not Aereo, that chooses to enable the transmission of these free, OTA signals. The payment they make to Aereo monthly (between $8 and $12) is for their own antenna, the same way that a consumer buys rabbit ears from a Radio Shack.

The argument continues to heat up and will reach a boiling point during oral arguments on April 22 in the Capitol.

[via Re/Code]